That girls are bad at STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) subjects is a pervasive and harmful stereotype that remains far too common today. But in an introductory computer science class at UC Berkeley last spring women outranked men in enrollment — there were 106 women and 104 men — for the first time.
Yes, the numbers are subtle, but they indicate a growing trend of women and girls asserting themselves in a field largely dominated by men. The percentage of female computer science majors at Berkeley nearly doubled from 2009 to 2013, to 21%. Stanford has seen female computer science enrollment grow markedly, from 12.5% in 2008 to 21% in 2013.
It’s starting here, too – 10 of the 25 students who’ve stuck out the first five weeks of my intro programming section this semester are women, up from something like 2 of 22 from my first venture teaching back in 2008 (and similar proportions back in 2005 when I was taking the class myself). But almost none of these women are interested in an engineering or CS major – most of them are learning programming as a skill to help their careers in other fields. Programming as a career is still really reallydude-heavy, and honestly I think the only way to fix that is to move the programming responsibilities to other areas, because guys seem to be really fiercely protective of their little club.
Despite the heavy visibility of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, according to a recent study by law firm Fenwick & West, nearly half of 150 Silicon Valley companies — 45.3% —have no female executives at all, and a plurality of those companies — 43.3% — have no women on their boards. This is not just mind boggling, but inherently damaging to one of the U.S.’s largest and fastest growing industries. According to a study by the Kellogg School of Management, more diverse teams make better decisions and have better problem solving capacities.
Further, according to a Harvard Business Review study, 52% of women in science, engineering and technology leave the field and don’t return.